Archive for November 22nd, 2011

“The most important thing”

November 22, 2011

It’s a pot luck class today in SOL: those of us with For the Benefit of All Beings will finish it, others will bring whatever they please. You never know what you’re gonna get.

First, though, a bit of good news. I revisited our school’s curriculum committee Friday afternoon. The results this time were quicker and happier than back in April: Philosophy of Happiness now enjoys a permanent designation of its own, and a place in the course catalog as “PHILOSOPHY 3160.” The committee also approved PHILOSOPHY 3310, Atheism and Philosophy  (Catalog descriptions).

So it’s official:  happiness endures.

We’re reading the Dalai Lama because several of us thought he had sharp insights into happiness to share. And he does. [Quotesmoremore] The “secret” is to live with kindness and compassion “for all beings,” and to understand that no “single source” can make us happy.  But the personal pursuit of happiness is not “the most important thing”:

We are all here on this planet, as it were, as tourists. None of us can live here forever… So while we are here we should try to have a good heart and to make something positive and useful of our lives.

In their different ways, all of the authors we’ve read this semester– Ehrenreich, Ricard, Hecht, Russell–  have said roughly that. I cited Bertrand Russell in CoPhi yesterday in the course of making a very similar point. “Happiness is none the less true happiness because it must come to an end.” It’s no more an illusion than life itself is an illusion. Of course that’s something we’ve been trying to clarify, with our Buddhist readings this semester. DL says elsewhere (in Universe in a Single Atom, or Meaning of Life, or Art of Happiness…) that Buddhism’s claim is not that life is an illusion but that it’s like an illusion. Hmmm.

Anyway, my position is that we should do all we can to extend, enrich, and intensify life on our planet, and fill the interim with happy purpose. We should set goals and strive to achieve them, as the cartoon I posted yesterday implied. Our goal should be to make it real, and enjoy the pursuit. There’s finally no other cure for birth and death than to enjoy the interval. (GS)

Yesterday’s conclusion fits today’s text even better: the future of life need be no illusion, and the vitality of our interest in that future will be as real as we choose to make it. The “good real things of life–work, love, children and play”– may just be good enough.

Whether we live just a few years or a whole century, it would be truly regrettable and sad if we were to spend that time aggravating the problems that afflict other people, animals, and the environment. The most important thing is to be a good human being.

Our happiness is inseparable from our goodness, and that’s bound up with the happiness of all beings. We’re here for the sake of one another, not strictly for ourselves. HHDL’s wisdom, finally, looks much like Mr. Einstein’s. “Strange is our situation here on Earth…” Happiness is within our grasp. Guess we should be grateful.